Alexander: Senate Begins Debate on Bipartisan Bill to Fix No Child Left Behind, a “Law That Everyone Wants to Fix”

Says unanimous committee passage, support from teachers and governors show “remarkable consensus” on how to fix law that expired 7 years ago

Posted on July 8, 2015

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 “That consensus is this: that we should continue the law’s important measurements of students’ academic progress but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers, and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about the results of these measurements.” – Lamar Alexander 

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 8 – As the United States Senate today began debate on his and Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) bipartisan bill to fix No Child Left Behind, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said the bill reflects the shared belief by both Democrats and Republicans that lawmakers should respect the judgments of those closest to the children “and leave to them most decisions about how to help 3.4 million teachers help 50 million children in 100,000 public schools improve student achievement.”

Alexander said: “Newsweek Magazine this week called this the ‘law that everyone wants to fix.’ There’s broad consensus about that. And remarkably, there’s also consensus about how to fix it. That consensus is this: that we should continue the law’s important measurements of students’ academic progress but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers, and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about the results of these measurements.”

He added: “This change should produce fewer tests and more appropriate ways to measure student achievement. We believe this is the most effective path toward higher standards, better teaching and real accountability.”

Today marks the first time legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been taken up on the Senate floor since the law expired in 2007.

The bipartisan legislation introduced by Alexander and Murray, the senior Democrat on the Senate education committee, passed unanimously out of the committee in April.

The legislation will:

  • End any federal mandates or incentives on Common Core – as well as any ability of the Education Secretary to control state standards.
  • Keep No Child Left Behind’s 17 federal tests but will give states responsibility for creating accountability systems as well as responsibility for determining the weight of test results in assessing school performance.
  • End the need for waivers from the law but also prohibit any Education Secretary from using waivers to mandate additional requirements for states or school districts.
  • Help states expand their best charter schools, evaluate their teachers, fix their lowest-performing schools and address the fragmentation of early childhood education programs – but it does not mandate states do those things, nor prescribe how they do them.

Alexander said today that he expects a “robust discussion and debate” on the bill that oversees the distribution of $23 billion in federal dollars to states annually – or about 4 percent of total national spending on K-12 education. More than 90 percent of K-12 spending is from state and local governments.

In describing the urgent need for Congress to fix the law, Alexander said: “The problems with No Child Left Behind have been created by a combination of presidential action and congressional inaction…“No Child Left Behind” expired in 2007 but Congress has been unable to agree on how to reauthorize it. As a result, the law’s original requirements have stayed in place and gradually became unworkable. This has caused almost all of America’s public schools to be classified as failing under the terms of the law.”

He continued: “To avoid this bizarre result, President Obama’s Education Secretary offered waivers from the terms of the law. But the Secretary required each of the 42 states currently operating under waivers to adopt certain academic standards, take prescribed steps to help failing schools, and to evaluate teachers in a defined way.

“So much new federal control of local schools has produced a backlash against Common Core academic standards, teacher evaluation, and against tests in general. Governors and chief state school officers complain about federal overreach. Infuriated teachers say that the U.S. Department of Education has become a ‘National Human Resources Department or, in effect, a national school board.’”

Alexander concluded his remarks with three arguments against outside groups “that believe the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability is through Washington, D.C.”

“Number one, states are better prepared today to set higher standards, to evaluate teachers, to develop good assessments, to develop good accountability systems than they were when No Child Left Behind passed in 2001.”

Alexander pointed to the long timeline of work states have done together to create voluntary standards, assessments and accountability systems.

“Two, the National School Board over the last 10 years has created a backlash – showing that the better path to higher standards, better teaching and accountability is state-by-state and not through Washington.

Alexander said: “If you believe, like I do, that high standards and teacher evaluation are the underpinnings of a great education and the way you help children learn what they need to do, you do not want to create a backlash to those efforts by insisting on prescriptive definitions from Washington, D.C.”

“Three, Most Americans understand that you don’t get wiser simply by getting in a plane and flying to Washington – in fact, that the people closer to the children are better equipped to make decisions about their education.”

He explained, “We spend 4 percent of the nation's education dollars through this bill we're debating today. We have a right to ask, I think, how are these children doing, how are these schools doing? Take a test, report the results, let us see if children are being left behind. But we shouldn't presume then to say, ‘Here is what you ought to do about it.’ We're going to decide who is succeeding, who is failing, and what’s the right way to fix that? We can't do that with 50 million children, 100,000 schools. All of those are better done by men and women closer to the children.”

Alexander added: “If senators were students in a classroom, none of us would expect to receive a passing grade for unfinished work. Seven years is long enough to consider fixing No Child Left Behind.” 

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